Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Animal Medicine: Seeing Hidden Emotions June 29, 2010

As one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, my horse Shadow ranks right up there with Jung and my dreams. Horses, like dreams, are nature: they do not lie. People can cover their true feelings with masks, but horses do not know how to make masks. As animals of prey that have survived by being intensely alert and wary, they are easily unsettled by subtle signs of incongruence in people’s behavior. The tiniest gesture — a tentativeness in our stride, a sideways glance, a sudden intake of breath — can trigger prehistoric horsey images of predatory wolves clad in sheep’s clothing and cause them to spook.

One of the most amazing, and frustrating, things about horses is that they naturally mirror our emotions. If we are afraid, they will be afraid. If, beneath a calm exterior, we are irritable or angry, intense, anxious, or excitable, they will behave in accordance with the deeper reality. Shadow was especially good at this. And since I’ve always been good at ignoring uncomfortable feelings, together we were a Jungian analyst’s dream!

For example, the first time Shadow and I took a dressage test, I was vaguely aware of feeling nervous; but because I didn’t like the way that felt, I ignored it. Thirty minutes before my test was to take place, Liz, my trainer, told me to exercise him in the round pen.  This is a training technique where you ask the horse to walk, trot, and canter around you in wide circles. This warms him up, reminds him of cues, bonds him with his trainer, consumes excess energy, and gives the trainer an opportunity to monitor his mood and correct inappropriate behavior. When Shadow started moving along the fence he couldn’t have looked more anxious; his movements were tentative and irregular and his eyes darted wildly from side to side as he looked over the fence to scan the horizon for danger. When I asked him to canter he raced around in the thick sand so quickly and recklessly that I was afraid he would fall and hurt himself.

Worried, I yelled “Whoa” louder and louder, but this only got him more stirred up. I tried rushing to the side of the pen with outstretched arms to stop him, but that only made him turn around and gallop away in the opposite direction. Then suddenly the veil dropped away and I saw the full extent of my own anxiety in his behavior. Immediately I stopped dead still in the center of the ring, closed my eyes, and began to breathe as slowly and deeply from my belly as I could. As I calmed myself, his response was immediate and dramatic. Within two turns around the ring his wild pace slowed to a canter. After a couple more turns he was trotting, a few more and he walked calmly toward me, stopped behind me, and touched his nose to my left shoulder. Whereas before my behavior had convinced him there was something to worry about, now he was equally convinced everything was fine.

This lesson affected me profoundly. Fifteen minutes with Shadow in that round pen brought home something I had not mastered after years of meditation: recognizing negative emotional states and rendering them harmless by returning to my quiet center. This skill is crucial to conflict resolution in everyday relationships. And can you imagine how different the world would be if everyone involved in international relations had a Shadow to show them their shadow?

What lessons has Our Lady of the Beasts taught you through your animal friends?


Learning From Our Lady of the Beasts June 26, 2010

“The Earth Mother is…the eternally fruitful source of everything…. Each separate being is a manifestation of her; all things share in her life through an eternal cycle of birth and rebirth….Her animals….embody the deity herself, defining her personality and exemplifying her power.”  Buffie Johnson, Our Lady of the Beasts, Inner Traditions

The successful wielding of power to enhance our soul’s development is a primary concern of the feminine archetypes. For them, power is not about controlling otherness, but about loving and learning from otherness so that our souls are empowered to become what they were created to be. If this is to happen, our energies need to be redirected away from pursuits aimed at acquiring external, historical power toward those that bring internal, natural power. By natural power I mean the soul’s power to act from its rich, authentic core, unencumbered by the chains of fear, ignorance, and conformity. One way of loosening these chains is to learn from Earth Mother’s manifestations in nature.

The farther removed we are from nature, the less apt we are to hear Sophia’s voice or learn from her natural guidance. One night after an eventful weekend at our mountain home I recorded five valuable insights I had acquired, all of them necessary to my empowerment, and none of which I would have learned had I stayed indoors. Through my adult interactions with nature I am rediscovering something I knew as a child but never had the words for: staying close to nature brings me closer to my truest self.

A major step in my own return to nature began when, in my fifties, I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying my own horse to train: a two-and-a-half-year old gray thoroughbred I called Honey’s Shadow Dancer — gray to symbolize the union of the opposites of black and white for which I strive, Honey for his sweetness, Shadow to signify my desire to be always mindful of my own shadow, and Dancer to honor the ever-changing dance of life. For me, the physical care I lavished on him and our efforts to understand and trust one another were spiritual practices that were every bit as meaningful as my earlier, more cerebral ones.

Native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that for many native peoples Horse represents both physical and unearthly power, and that the impact of Horse’s domestication was akin to the discovery of fire. “Before Horse, humans were earthbound, heavy-laden, and slow creatures indeed. Once humans climbed on Horse’s back, they were as free and fleet as the wind. Through their special relationship with Horse, humans altered their self-concept beyond measure. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization.”

The term animal medicine refers to life lessons learned from animals whose characteristics and habits demonstrate how to walk on our physical Earth Mother in harmony with the universe. Like Buffie Johnson, I think of the aspect of Earth Mother that conveys lessons through wild creatures and beloved animal companions as Our Lady of the Beasts. Next time I’ll share some empowering animal medicine she brought to me through my beloved teacher, Shadow.

What animal teachers has Our Lady of the Beasts sent to you?


A Mother’s Love June 22, 2010

There’s one more reason why Bear is such an important symbol for me. I’d like to tell you about it. The mother bear is one of the most tender, nurturing, and fiercely protective mothers in the animal world. In the spring when she emerges from her den, she brings with her at least one new cub who was born during the hibernation. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her baby is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. It is essential that the cub remain in the tree, for if she climbs down and wanders around alone it is only a matter of time before she will become lunch for a ravenous adult male bear.

Having no idea of the danger that awaits, in those first few days out of hibernation the cub tries to climb down and follow her mother. When this happens the mother must swat her child firmly and chase her back up the tree. Finally the poor baby stays, afraid of being alone, but more afraid of the disapproval of her mother. Soon she learns to trust that if she stays there long enough, Mother will eventually come back. Then the joyful cub can climb down out of the tree and together they will eat, play, and snooze until it is time to return to the den for the night.

Mother and cub follow this routine for about two years. During this time the dutiful child learns her lessons well from the good mother. Then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back.

The sun’s rays lengthen. Twilight arrives. The baby waits in the tree. She is hungry. She is lonely. She is afraid. Maybe she is angry. How dare Mother stay away so long? Still she waits. Night falls. She hears terrifying noises and there is a gnawing hunger in her belly. But she has learned her lessons well so she waits for her mother like a good little bear.

Here is the terrible truth that the baby bear must learn: in order to survive and grow into a mature bear capable of becoming a nurturing mother herself, she must commit an act of disobedience against the good mother. She must climb down from the tree. The moment she leaves the tree’s safety and makes her sad and lonely way through the forest is the moment she accepts her royal birthright. No longer will she be a naive and innocent princess. She has no choice but to grow up. The Queen of her universe is dead. Long live the new Queen.

Like the baby bear, our job during the first half of life is to become civilized and safe. But the journey is not over once we have learned to respect society’s authorities — whether familial, political, or spiritual — for too often they are flawed and their agendas stifle our psychological and spiritual growth. The baby bear’s predicament represents our ego’s awakening to the personal meaning and sacred authority of our own souls. At some point we, too, need to commit an act of disobedience against the good mother of society so we can expand into the authentic, compassionate, and responsible moral beings we were created to be.

It may seem cruel, but society’s abandonment of us when we grow strong enough to go our own, individual ways is actually a gift that initiates us into discovering the guidance and wisdom of our inner mother, Sophia, the feminine side of the Beloved. How have you been initiated by Mother Bear?


Following Bear: Seeking the Beloved June 19, 2010

Your interest in my most recent posts has convinced me to continue with the thread I’ve been following for a while.  So since I’m living in black bear country right now, I’d like to explain why the bear is a symbol of the Beloved, or Self, why it is so meaningful to me, and why it sometimes appears in the dreams of seekers.

As large animals that are so human-like at the same time they are so strangely other, bears generate an awareness of, and reverence for, the instinctual life of the body and soul. In a culture such as ours, based as it is on a centuries-old tradition of valuing mind over matter and repressing the instincts, bears remind us that we ourselves are animals, and that, in the soul-stirring words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

A second theme addresses endings and beginnings and the times of transition between. In their simple willingness to shake off their unconscious sleeps, abandon the dark caves of their births and hibernations, and make their solitary ways into the forest, bears demonstrate that transitions from known to unknown are not to be feared as obstacles or punishments, but embraced as thresholds to enriched living.

Bears also symbolize transformation and rebirth and are associated with all initial stages. Psychologically they represent the time of awakening when one becomes aware of the reality and power of the unconscious self. This is partly because during hibernation they fall into a sleep so deep that they appear to be dead; yet, wonder of wonders, in the spring they emerge from their caves as if they have been resurrected. It was only natural that Bear would become a cherished symbol many years ago when I was savagely awakened from the sleep of conventional thinking by a scatheon (a dream word I interpret as “god wound”) and compelled by forces I could not understand to embark on a painful spiritual quest. Although initially devastating, an encounter with the Self eventually brings far greater rewards than those left behind. Like Bear, I too am now at home in the unknown where I love to roam the wilderness and fish for nourishment in dark waters.

Another of the bear’s themes is introspection. Bear emerged in my life during a phase of massive psychological house-cleaning and remodeling. I was attending weekly classes on Jungian psychology, reading books about the same, studying my dreams, and recording my most meaningful insights in a book about psycho-spiritual development in which, for reasons I did not fully understand, a golden bear became a prominent symbol. Just as Bear spends long periods of time in inward-focused hibernation each year, so was I thoroughly immersed in my inner world

Some years ago a new theme, return to nature,  began to demand my attention. It manifested in ways unusual for me then: a decreased motivation to write, restlessness, attraction to the outdoors, and a particularly alien itch for more physical activity. I recognized another threshold, another opportunity to follow Bear. Once the golden bear called me out of unconsciousness and into awareness of the sacred place within. Now it calls me out of myself. You’ve hibernated long enough, my bears say. Come out here and find us! It’s time to explore your senses and immerse yourself in nature, the final sacred place for pilgrims such as you.


Dream Symbols of the Beloved: Part II June 15, 2010

Your response to my last post was so overwhelming that I’m going to save the one about how to work with your dreams for next time and continue with the current theme. I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning as I read your comments and did a bit more research.

I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.

This morning I opened Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, to re-read his section on symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes about animal symbolism. He says, “The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.” Spiders. Mountains. Trees.

When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?) Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a huge mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.

Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home.  They’re all over the house.  But that’s another story too. Bears.

Speaking of bears, every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says “Bear Raffa:  Forever Faithful” in the cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.

Do I need any further reminders from the Beloved of how loved I am and why I love this place so? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Beloved, my friends.


Dream Symbols of the Beloved June 12, 2010

In my last post I described the Self as our Beloved, the core energy in every psyche that compels us to grow into loveable, enlightened beings. Our egos often reject the Self’s guidance but it never gives up on us. In its aspect as Dream Mother it reveals itself in symbols and actions based on six basic attributes: wholeness, centrality, unity, love, pattern, and the life-giving force.

Wholeness: Jung associated this with quaternity, or four-ness, because of the way we and our world are created. There are four directions and four winds. Christianity has four evangelists, a cross has four arms, there are four cardinal virtues, and mandalas — the intricate circular sacred symbols produced by many religions — have four sections. Also, humanity has four basic ways of experiencing life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. So whenever a circular object (a coin, table, bowl, sphere, etc.) or four-ness (four people, four flowers in a vase, four walls, the numeral 4, etc.) appear in a dream, I always consider their implications for my growth into wholeness.

Centrality: The Self is our psyche’s source of energy and the point from which every psycho-spiritual event proceeds. It is often represented by things with centers; for example, the heart (a vital central organ), the circle with a dot in the center (the central hole in the Chinese jade disk opens to heaven), and ancient symbols for the center of the world, including a cosmic tree (Jung saw the vertically growing form of a palm tree as a symbol of the soul) or sacred mountain.

Unity: Since the Self’s creative energy is constantly being renewed by the ongoing tension between our masculine and feminine drives, it is often symbolized by the balanced union of opposites — i.e. pairs of things, a Couple, reciprocal actions, the Divine Androgyne (suggested by having attributes of the opposite gender), twins, crosses, two interlocking circles, the hexagram or double triangle, the yin-yang symbol, weddings and wedding rings, sex, and bridges — and also through images of the unity in multiplicity, i.e. a pearl necklace or mandala.

Love: Deity’s primary characteristic is love. As our god-image, the Self can be represented in dreams via depictions of people engaged in loving actions such as kissing, hugging, forgiving, helping others, gift-giving, or making sacrifices. When our dream egos feel and demonstrate love for others, or when others make us feel loved, we are being shown something about our capacity for love and the Self’s love for us. Of course, the heart is also a symbol of love.

Pattern: Since we think of God as the creator and sustainer of the underlying patterns that support life, the Self is suggested by patterned walkways, lattices, mathematical arrays, music, webs, grids, the Diamond Net of Indra, holograms, intricately patterned mandalas or jewelry, and so on.

Life-Giving Force: All symbols or acts of insemination, creativity, initiation, birth, growth (i.e. growing babies or blooming plants), transformation (the butterfly), or movement and change (a snake shedding its skin, the double-stranded DNA spiral, spinning wheels), refer to the miracle of our life and the forces that sustain it.

Next time I’ll have some suggestions about how to work with your dreams. Meanwhile, pay attention to your dreams tonight. You might just have one that features the Self. If you do, I hope you’ll let me know!


Dreams and the Beloved June 8, 2010

Most of us want to grow or improve in some way: to be happier, wiser, kinder, and more loving. To be more creative, find more fulfilling work. To be better parents or partners. To live with more integrity. To lessen our anxiety and ease our suffering. To free ourselves from the emotional pain and habitual behaviors that fling us into the abyss and wound our relationships.To be more understanding and helpful to others. To feel more connected to the Mystery.

As award-winning author and urban shaman Donna Henes says in writing about the Queen archetype, “The holy elixir that we seek is the transformation of the painful, rejected, neglected, wounded, unsatisfied, unsatisfactory parts of our Self, into the unified, organized, energized, golden glory and grace of the fulfilled Queen. It is through our sincere and complete participation in this process that we learn how to recognize, claim and proudly proclaim our own true power. The power of our fully engaged Self.”

But many of us are at a loss about how exactly to participate in this process. Writing and dreamwork have been my most fruitful practices, but when I tell people how important my dreams are to me, I sometimes sense real perplexity along the order of, “Weird! What are you smoking, lady?”

How can dreams possibly be of any practical use? Because they provide insights about unknown aspects of ourselves that validate our worth and help us grow. I know this because I’ve experienced it. The proof is in the vast improvement in my inner climate: fewer hurricanes, heat waves, arctic blasts, volcanic eruptions, and floods; more balmy air, cooling breezes and refreshing rain. But this is not always readily apparent or easily conveyed to others and can be difficult to understand.

Dreams are natural resources of infinite value. They are available to everyone, and in these hard economic times, the good news is that they are absolutely free! But we have to be willing to mine them, and for that we need time, intention, and a bit of help from more experienced miners who can teach us the trade. To that end, in this and the next few posts I’ll share a bit of what I’ve learned about how dreams aid psycho-spiritual transformation.

My starting point is the Self, which is both our core and our circumference. Some think of it as our soul, the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to become. Jung called it the archetype of wholeness and in later years referred to it as our god-image and connection to the Mystery some call God. Composed of the twin drives for self-preservation (i.e. masculine logos, represented in alchemy by the King archetype) and species preservation (feminine mythos/eros symbolized by the Queen), the Self shapes our ideas about God and is the source of our irresistible compulsion to grow into wholeness, consciousness, and enlightenment.

The Self is our inner Beloved, a fresh, never-ending fountain of love, creativity, wholeness and sacred meaning that reveals itself in the symbolic images and soulful dramas of our dreams. Why does it do this? Because it has a natural benevolence that feels like love to us. Like a sleeping princess waiting for the Lover Prince to awaken her with a kiss, the Self rests at the core of our being, calling our heroic egos to their destiny of merging with the indwelling Mystery.

To be continued….


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